‘Death Star’ towers over Sin City skyline


Allegiant Stadium opening day Sept 2020 Image: Allegiant Stadium

A National Football League (NFL) team in the gambling mecca Las Vegas (US) was something unimaginable till a few years back. The NFL was most averse to gambling and never allowed its players to enter a casino. In fact, the league avoided gambling like the plague.

But, lo and behold, few years later the impossible has become possible with the NFL team Las Vegas Raiders and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Rebels college football team making the plush Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, in the State of Nevada, their home. The domed facility has been dubbed the ‘Death Star’ by the Raiders’ owner Mark Davis.

The Las Vegas Raiders National Football League (NFL) team opened its new ‘smart and swanky’ state-of-the-art domed Allegiant Stadium in Nevada on September 21st, 2020, by registering a 34-24 win over professional American football team New Orleans Saints.

The 65,000-seat facility becomes the second new NFL venue to open this month in the United States after the spectacular SoFi Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, staged its first game on September 13th.

The team’s home opener was held without fans due to the serious COVID-19 situation in the United States for which a lot of restrictions have been imposed.

The Raiders confirmed last month that the luxuriant facility would not open its doors to fans for the duration of the 2020 season.

Though limited onlookers have been allowed by a number of NFL teams in their facilities this season but the Raiders have chosen to stage games behind closed doors and feel this does justice to the personal seat license (PSL) holders.

A high point of the new stadium is the Al Davis Memorial Torch, an 85-foot-tall memorial torch devoted to the late owner of the Raiders. The torch was lit on Monday by Al Davis’ widow Carol, the mother of present Raiders owner Mark Davis, who is not attending games at the plush facility in solidarity with fans. It marked the first time that the torch, which is the world’s largest 3D printed structure in the world, had been lit.

Las Vegas rock band ‘The Killers’ also performed at half-time during the game. “It’s our pleasure to welcome the Raiders to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada,” said lead singer Brandon Flowers.

On the field, the Raiders turned around a 10-point deficit against the Saints to open their new home with a win and maintain their 100 percent start to the season.

Although supporters were not let in to the stadium, a handful did descend outside of the venue to show their support from afar.

The price tag of Raiders’ home stands at $1.9bn (£1.5bn/€1.6bn).

The Raiders recently announced that Allegiant Stadium will become the first venue in US pro sports to open as a cashless facility once fans are allowed inside the luxurious and expansive venue.

The Raiders were formerly based in Oakland, California (US) and played their home games at the Coliseum.

‘Death Star’ finally opens!

The breathtaking Allegiant Stadium – dubbed the ‘Death Star’ by Raiders’ owner Mark Davis – came alive and throbbing for the first time on September 21st, 2020, and history was made. Few years back, one could not even imagine the NFL going in for a facility in Las Vegas knowing that gambling is the league’s pet hate and even sports betting.

Nevertheless, the opening of the spiffy facility would have been even more electrifying had it been held in the presence of fans. COVID-19 ensured that fans cannot attend as the dangerous virus still continues to haunt the United States and take a huge toll on lives.

The NFL in Sin City. Even the bookies in this gambling mecca Las Vegas would never have bet on this happening.

The NFL, which at one point of time feared sports betting more than anything else out of fear that it could challenge the game’s integrity, coming to Sin City explains their huge shift in philosophy. It also took a leap of faith by the Raiders — along with $750 million in taxpayers’ money involved – to embrace a City that seems to blend perfectly with the culture of ‘The Men in Black’ fan base.

However, Mark Davis’ gamble paid off when the Raiders met the New Orleans Saints in the opening game of the glittering and glowing $2 billion stadium. The elegant facility looms over the Las Vegas Strip, and the Raiders’ dilapidated stadium in Oakland (their former home) fades into oblivion where players often churned through a dirt infield.

It was a bittersweet moment as no fans were allowed because of the pandemic situation. But, the national TV audience consumed football and spectacular vistas, and with typical Las Vegas glitz ‘The Killers’ entertained with great panache and brought life to the venue from the rooftop of nearby Caesars Palace.

A new era has begun for the NFL which once stopped players from even entering casinos. Allegiant Stadium lent authenticity to the fact that Las Vegas is one of the great sporting cities in the world, as well as a much-needed psychological boost to a town shattered due to drop in tourism caused by the fatal virus.

“I feel bad that (fans) won’t be able to be at the game, but I do know that with us being here and playing a home game there is still a feel around town: `Oh, the Raiders are playing in town,’ “quarterback Derek Carr said.

“So, it’s still exciting and I got people driving up next to my car and waving and going nuts and stuff,” Carr added.

If the Raiders have embraced Las Vegas, the City has embraced them back. Season tickets sold like hot cakes – irrespective of the hefty prices for seat licenses.

Around the City, staunch supporters were seen wearing silver and black, and Raiders flags flying high. The ‘Death Star’ may not be packed with delirious fans as ticket prices are pocket-pinching, but the team is eager to create new traditions in a home it has promised to spend the next 30 years playing in.

It was almost a drop in a swoon moment on Monday night when the lanai doors opened on the North end of the stadium to reveal a panoramic view of the Las Vegas Strip just past the massive torch honoring the Late Al Davis, and the moment had arrived…

“This is our field of dreams, this is our house,” Mark Davis told the team last month when it gathered at the sleek venue for the first time.

And what a house it is which is sure to sweep all and sundry off their feet! The black glassed stadium – which some say resembles a giant Roomba – sits just off I-15 next to the Las Vegas Strip, looming over the main road that brings tourists in from Southern California. It boasts a translucent roof, natural grass and seats 65,000, bringing the City an avant-garde stadium venue it never had that will be used for concerts, fights, UFC events and likely a Super Bowl.

The view through the huge lanai doors and the Al Davis torch is the iconic features and is sure to take one’s breath away, but everything about the stadium seems to scream Raiders in Las Vegas.

“It’s imposing and intimidating, and it’s perfect for the Raiders. We love the way it looks,” exulted Raiders’ President Marc Badain.

A lot of moving parts had to come together – and quickly – to get to this point. The Raiders at first were supposed to team up with the Los Angeles Chargers on a stadium in Los Angeles, but NFL owners instead decided to greenlight the new $5 billion stadium built by the Rams (SoFi Stadium) that opened recently.

The amazing arena, which will also host UNLV football games, came in on budget and on time and is a class apart.

“The bright lights, the natural grass in a domed stadium, the spectacular locker room, it’s a state-of-the-art facility,” exclaimed Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

“It’s got everything you can imagine, and I can’t wait to share it with our fans. It’s a lot different than Alameda. No disrespect to the old stadium, but it’s a lot different,” Gruden added.

So intense is the craze of footy lovers for the marvellous stadium that Badain informed that 40 percent of season tickets have been sold to people who don’t live in Las Vegas.

Badain continued, “To have a venue this size adjacent to the resort corridor is overdue. It’s going to be a catalyst and economic driver for this market coming out of the pandemic. I think this town will rally quickly and we’ll be a big driver of that.”

But, everything will have to wait till the coronavirus storm – which is wreaking havoc globally – is over. Or at least, till the COVID-19 situation stabilizes in the US. For now, empty seats will greet players, just as they are at most NFL stadia around the country.

A City which thrives on tourism and is built on fun and games got its first major professional sports team just three years ago in the form of the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Golden Knights. Now, it enjoys a marquee team in the biggest league in the country – and a stadium which measures up to it.

Feels Badain, “This is now both the sports and entertainment capital of the world. Who’s going to top this? There’s no competition.”

Raiders in ‘Sin City’ were almost like an oxymoron till few years back. Now, it is a fact and no longer fiction!

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